Nearly two-thirds of Americans think the federal government isn’t doing enough to combat climate change, according to a new poll that shows limited public awareness of a sweeping new law committing the US to its biggest ever investment to combat global warming.
Democrats in Congress passed the Inflation Reduction Act in August, giving President Joe Biden a hard-fought win over priorities his party hopes will bolster prospects of keeping their House and Senate majorities in November elections.
Biden and Democratic lawmakers have touted the new law as a landmark achievement leading up to the midterm elections, and environmental groups have spent millions pushing the measure in battleground states. Yet the poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research finds that 61% of American adults say they know little or nothing about it.
While the law was widely heralded as the largest investment in climate spending in history, 49% of Americans say it won’t make much of a difference to climate change, 33% say it will help, and 14% think it will make more hurt that.
The measure, which passed without a single Republican vote in either house, provides nearly $375 billion in incentives to speed the expansion of clean energy like wind and solar, accelerating the transition away from fossil fuels like oil, coal and natural gas that greatly cause climate change.
Combined with spending by states and the private sector, the law could help cut US carbon emissions by about two-fifths by 2030 and reduce electricity emissions by up to 80%, advocates say. .
Michael Katz, 84, of Temple, New Hampshire, said he thinks Biden has “done an amazing amount of work” as president. “I’m kind of in awe of what he’s done,” said Katz, a Democrat and retired photographer. Still, when asked for his opinion on the Inflation Reduction Act, Katz said, “I’m not familiar with it.”
After learning about the law’s provisions, Katz said he supports more spending on wind and solar power, along with incentives to buy electric vehicles.
Katz said he supports even stronger measures, such as restrictions on rebuilding in coastal areas damaged by Hurricane Ian or other storms, but doubts they will ever pass.
“People want their dreams to come true: to live near the sea in a big house,” he said.
Leah Stokes, a professor of environmental policy at the University of California, Santa Barbara, said she was not surprised that the climate law is so little known, despite massive media coverage when it was debated in Congress, Biden passed it and signed it. .
The law was passed during the summer, when people traditionally pay less attention to the news, “and it takes time to explain,” especially since many of the law’s provisions have yet to go into effect, Stokes said.
Biden and congressional Democrats “greatly delivered on the climate,” he said, but now they must focus on helping the public understand the law and “winning the victory.”
Meredith McGroarty, a waitress from Pontiac, Michigan, said she knew little about the new law but supports more climate action. “I have children that I will leave in this world,” she said.
McGroarty, 40, a Democrat, urged Biden and other leaders to talk more about the “effects of the climate law on normal, everyday people. Let us know what’s going on a little more.”
In general, Americans are more likely to support than oppose many of the government actions on climate change included in the law, the survey shows. That includes incentives for electric vehicles and solar panels, though relatively few say they’re willing to pursue them in the next three years.
About half of Americans think government action targeting businesses with restrictions is very important, the survey shows, while about a third say that about restrictions on individuals. A majority of Americans, 62%, say that companies’ refusal to reduce energy use is a major problem for efforts to reduce climate change, while nearly half say that people who are unwilling to Reducing your energy use is a major issue.
Just over half also say it’s a major problem that the energy industry isn’t doing enough to supply power from renewable sources like wind and solar, and about half say the government isn’t investing enough in energy. renewable.
Overall, 62% of American adults say the government is doing too little to reduce climate change, while 19% say it is doing too much and 18% believe it is doing the right thing.
Democrats are more likely than others to think the federal government is doing too little for the climate: 79% say so, compared to 67% of independents and 39% of Republicans. About three-quarters of black and Hispanic Americans think there is too little action, compared to about half of white Americans.
And about three-quarters of adults under the age of 45 think there is very little action on climate, significantly more than about half of those older than that.
Robert Stavins, a professor of energy and economic development at Harvard Kennedy School, said it makes sense for the government to step in to promote renewable energy on a large scale.
“Individual action is not going to be enough in 10 or even 20 years,” he said. “Government policies are needed to create incentives for industry and people to move in a carbon-friendly direction.”
Americans want a car “and they’re not going to buy one that’s expensive,” Stavins said, so the government needs to drive down the costs of electric vehicles and encourage automakers to produce more electric vehicles, including the availability widespread charging stations. Biden has set a goal of installing 500,000 charging stations across the United States as part of the 2021 infrastructure bill.
When it comes to renewable energy, nearly two-thirds of US adults say offshore wind farms should be expanded, and about 6 in 10 say solar panel farms should be expanded. Biden has moved to expand both offshore wind and solar power as president.
Americans are divided on offshore drilling for oil and natural gas. About a third say such piercing should be expanded, while the same number say it should be reduced; another third say neither.
Republicans were more likely than Democrats to favor expanding offshore drilling, 54% to 20%.
The survey of 1,003 adults was conducted from September 9 to 12 using a sample drawn from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak panel, which is designed to be representative of the US population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 4.0 percentage points.